The Washington Post leads with news that President Bush believes he can allow the CIA to conduct clandestine assassination missions against specific al-Qaida members. This would be the first time the agency has taken on kill missions since botched assassination attempts scarred its reputation in the 1960s and '70s. The New York Timesleads with American and British officials bracing themselves for a “prolonged and difficult” war in Afghanistan that could stretch for another year or more. The Los Angeles Timesleads with (and WP fronts) news of more American airstrikes against front-line Taliban positions near Kabul, the heaviest since the campaign began. The paper adds that 8,000 Pakistani volunteers armed with rifles and rocket launchers have massed near Pakistan’s northwestern border and plan to join Taliban forces.
According to the WP lead, executive orders signed by Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan forbid assassinations. But Bush defends his orders by citing two more recent documents: a 1998 memo in which Bill Clinton authorized the use of lethal force against al-Qaida and Bush’s own intelligence “finding” that the United States should pursue new attacks against the Taliban. Who, exactly, would the agency be going to kill? The paper says only that potential targets extend beyond Osama Bin Laden’s inner circle and may live in countries other than Afghanistan. According to sources, the CIA has embraced the idea of returning to assasination missions but wants the president to deliver a specific list of targets—thus, if the attempts fail, the administration can’t claim plausible deniability and blame the agency.
The NYT lead notices a shift in the rhetoric of administration officials regarding the war in Afghanistan. In the opening days of the campaign, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said U.S. planes had almost run out of targets and others spoke of “eviscerating” Taliban forces. Now, they portray the Taliban as dogged and battle-hardened and stress the difficulty of the operation. The reasons are familiar: The Taliban are hiding in caves and civilian neighborhoods; there’s no obvious replacement for the Taliban; the Americans and British have all but ruled out the use of a large ground army; this isn’t Kosovo or Desert Storm; etc. A British admiral calls the campaign his country’s most difficult military operation since the Korean War.
According to the LAT lead, the Taliban’s new Pakistani allies have coalesced around Sofi Mohammadi, a popular Pakistani religious leader. One soldier says that if Pakistani border guards try to prevent the group’s entry into Afghanistan this week, it will declare jihad against Pakistan. During yesterday’s airstrikes, a misguided American bomb hit a Northern Alliance-controlled village and killed either one person (LAT) or 10 (WP). It’s the fourth time in seven days that a U.S. bomb has strayed into Alliance territory.
The NYT fronts an interview with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in which she claims that the Russians have warmed to U.S. plans to test its missile defense system. Rice tells the paper, “I think that the Russians are beginning to see that what we've said all along is true: that the near-term program for missile defense, which is really a testing and evaluation program, is not actually a threat to them." The paper raises but doesn’t answer a key question: What do the Russians want in return for their cooperation? (Slate’s David Plotz discusses in this “Assessment.”)
The WP fronts (and others stuff) a report that Pakistani intelligence officers have arrested and turned over to U.S. authorities Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, a Yemeni student suspected of being an active member of al-Qaida and participating in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. Authorities handed Mohammed to the feds at a remote area of the Karachi airport, where he left on plane without a formal extradition hearing. His arrest came after U.S. and Pakistani authorities conducted a sweep of Pakistan’s college students, searching for al-Qaida members and other militants.
The WP fronts (and others stuff) news that Washington, D.C.’s Department of Health has begun prescribing doxycycline instead of Cipro to those who might have come in contact with anthrax—the former is a cheaper generic drug that delivers similar results and fewer side effects. Those stories also report that federal authorities closed the main post office in Princeton, N.J., after discovering anthrax in a mail bin.
According to a NYT fronter, the FBI intercepted congratulatory phone calls in the minutes after the Sept. 11 attacks, possibly from al-Qaida members, and those intercepts led to a number of arrests—though the paper doesn’t know exactly how many arrests or whether the agency believes the arrestees were involved in the attacks. The bureau acted quickly because al-Qaida operatives exchanged similar calls after the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa.
Finally, everybody reports that the Arizona Diamondbacks roughed up New York Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina en route to a 9-1 victory in Game 1 of the World Series. Said Mussina, “This was not something I'm going to remember fondly.”